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15/9 More security checks then normal at Auckland Airport as would be expected. We weren't even allowed to take a shaver on the plane in our handluggage or nail scissors.
Arrived on time at Sydney, it is warm and sunny but our hostel is far more expensive then in New Zealand. Some of the best days can not be planned or anticipated: we saw in the newspaper that there were celebrations of the anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Olympics. This was at Olympic Park adjacent to the Stadium and all free. Playing live were a mixture of bands and musicians including the Australian Youth Orchestra, Bollywood Brass Band (from London), Vanessa - the Oz equivalent of Britney Spears - and the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing Handel's Firework Music appropiately to accompany a spectacular firework display. The Olympic Flame was relit to an amazing sound and light display. There were lots of people in the crowd but there was still plenty of room to see everything and enjoy the warm spring evening.
16/9 Spent the day soaking up the sun and strolling around Sydney. We had a picnic lunch in the Botanical Gardens and an awesome view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
As it was Sunday afternoon there were many families in the park and many sailing boats in the harbour.
We saw a jetskier zigzaging between the ferries, shortly to be stopped and given a ticket by the boat police with their flashing lights and siren.
17/9 Changed to a cheaper hostel in the notorious Kings Cross area, plenty of massage parlours and women with deep voices and hairy legs... But at least this hostel hasn't got see through shower curtains like the last.
Took the ferry to Toronga Zoo and saw all the typical Australian animals with the Sydney skyscrapers in the background. We got a photo of a koala bear in case we don't see them in the wild.
18/9 Visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales, mainly because of a free Aboriginal performance of the didgeridoo. It sounds very strange and is surprisingly versatile. Tempted to buy one but don't really want to lug it around for the next 4 months although plenty of backpackers do.
Good decision to attend an informational evening about travelling in OZ. It was held at a bar with free beer. There were plenty of free prizes and as there were so few people there we had a 1 in 1 chance of winning something. Hilary won the most expensive prize (worth about 120 GBP), a three day trip in Kakado National Park near Darwin where we planned to go anyway. Luk won a day trip to some caves near Cairns.
19/9 Spent the morning organising and booking our trip through OZ. Managed to get some good deals, that's the main reason why we've ended up booking the Oz Experience - the same company we travelled with in New Zealand.
In the afternoon we went to check out the famous Bondi Beach. Yellow sand and clean looking water and plenty of young people enjoying the sun and surf, very typical Australian.
Sydney Opera House in the evening, Hilary wanted to see an opera but there aren't any the week we are here! Instead we saw a weird modern ballet 'Birdbrain' supposedly based on Swan Lake but couldn't see the resemblance. Good dancing though.
We took a night ferry around the harbour and enjoyed the bright Sydney skyline.
20/9 Visited Sydney Aquarium and saw some large sharks and rays.
21/9 Daytrip to the Blue Mountains - two hours drive outside of Sydney. They are more like hills then mountains but really do have a blue haze caused by evaporating eucalyptus oil. We saw kangaroos in the wild and were excited to see they even had joeys in their pouches. The joey would stick its head of the pouch and eat grass at the same time as the mother was grazing, other joeys were in upside down with only their legs sticking out. If people got to close with their cameras the kangaroos would hop away. A local bakery sold skippy pies (kangaroo meat) but we could not bring ourselves to eat one at 10 o'clock in the morning. We walked down a thousand steps to the bottom of the valley and took the funicular railway back up - the steepest railway in the world. We saw various birds including a male satin bower bird who collects blue coloured objects and puts them in its bower to attract the females.22/9 Started the Oz Experience bus tour and first stop is Singleton, solely because we want to do a wine tour.
23/9 Wine tour of the Hunter Valley, visited about 8 different wineries all in very pretty surroundings. We could try about 10 different wines in each one, it would be very easy to get drunk, but everyone on our tour was very civilised. Also tasted cheese and fudge, delicious. We are now experts at Australian wines and sick to death of them.
24/9 Joined the Oz bus and visited a sheep farm where we had a sheep shearing demonstration. Luk got to try his hand at it. He didn't cut the sheep once although some of the others did.
25/9 Arrived at Bingara, not a lot here except a river where we saw Kookaburra, Galahs and Cockatoos. A delicious BBQ was organised for all of us backpackers.
26-29/9 Byron Bay, a hippie haven on the beautiful beach. Luk and I tried boogie boarding, which is lying down on short surf boards and catching a wave to the beach. Two dolphins came right up close to the beach, we also saw them from the most easterly point of Australia - a cliff with a lighthouse on it.
We are staying in an apartment-like hostel sharing with some wild american girls, it's been great fun. The hostel organised a BBQ with as much wine as we could drink. Various girls couldn't cope and ended up collapsed in the toilet, to be rescued by Hilary.
30/9 Oz bus, drove to Surfer's Paradise, glad we're not staying here as it's horrible. The beautiful beach is ruined by all the high rise apartment blocks beside it, blocking out the sun by about 3pm. Continued the drive through the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains where we stopped and had a walk through the bush and saw a couple of small Wallabies.
1-2/10 Stayed at Mooloolaba for a few days. This is called the sunshine coast for obvious reasons. We swam with seals at the local aquarium, hoping it would be like swimming with dolphins in the ocean. It wasn't quite the same in a small pool with people watching through the underwater window, but we still enjoyed it.
3/10 Arrived at Hervey Bay for our trip to Fraser Island. All travellers we've met here have told us to go to Fraser Island and do a self drive tour. The hostel where we booked the trip gave us a talk about all the rules and regulations of the island - it's a world heritage site with no proper roads and made entirely of sand. It's the world's longest sandbar. We are sharing a 4WD Landrover Defender with 5 other backpackers: Kerry, Gemma, Julia, Rob and Manuela.
4/10 Bad start to the trip, missed the 9am ferry, entirely the hostels fault. They hadn't packed up the jeep in time making us far to late. Fortunately there was a space left on the 10:30am ferry and we finally got to the island at 11:30am. There are no proper roads on the island so 4WD are vital to negotiate the extremely bumpy tracks. The inland speed limit was 35 km/h but we barely managed 30 km/h with people in the back complaining. We stocked up on firewood and water and walked half an hour to Lake Basin. Along the way we had to be careful not to walk into huge spiderwebs, also saw a goanna - a half metre long lizard. We were so hot from walking, it was lovely to cool off in the lake. We couldn't spend long there as we had to get on to the beach before high tide. The beach is a designated highway where road rules apply despite the lack of road markings. Speed limit is 80 km/h and hazards include:
Didn't have time to stop and enjoy the sites along the beach as we wanted to get to the camp site before dark. It took 20 minutes alone to get 50 meters from the beach to the camp site as the sand was so soft and rucked up. Local fishermen laughed at our attempts but Rob managed it when we all got out of the car. Put up our tents and got the campfire going and Gemma took charge over the cooking. After dinner Rob did his fire display, two balls of fire on the end of chains twirled round and round and back and forth, sometimes hitting himself. Luk and I walked down to the beach and in the distance we could see an electrical storm. We just got everything packed away before it started tipping it down. The lightning lit up the inside of our tents.
- washouts where fresh water flows across the beach causing the sand to collapse with it, leaving sudden gaps that were hard to see and the cause of a few bruises when certain people drove...
- children making sandcastles
- planes landing and taking off - they have priority - the beach is also a runway.
- driving in the seawater would cost us a minimum of as the sign on the front windscreen so ominously reminded us, very necessary to know the tide times.
- Drink drivers - we did see a few - even families with children.
- fishermen and their long rods.
5/10 Up at 5am to see sunrise over the ocean from Indian Head. The waves were huge and we could see large sharks, the sharks here are known to attack so it is far to dangerous to swim - didn't stop one group of drunken backpacker going skinnydipping at midnight. Also spotted some dolphins and turtles. Walked along the beach to Champagne Pools where the rock pools are cut off from the ocean but waves still bashed over the rocks making the water bubbly. At noon we walked up to Indian Head again with the Rob and Julia who couldn't get up this morning. While gazing out at the ocean we saw a white line breaking the calm. As we watched, a huge black bean shape rose out of the water and collapsed in a bellyflop back into the ocean causing a huge splash. We were ecstatic at seeing humpback whales in the wild.We drove to Ely Creek where we floated down the cool creek waters with the palm fronds above us. Also stopped at the Maheno shipwreck, at passenger ship that was blown ashore while being towed for scrap and is now a tourist attraction.We sat up camp along the beach and were soon welcomed by Dingos. Dingos are wild dogs brought to Australia 4000 years ago, Fraser Island is the only place where they haven't interbred with domestic dogs. They are a nuisance and even killed an 8 year old boy in March this year. They pestered us all night trying to steal food from our BBQ dinner. There are strict rules on the island about not feeding or encouraging Dingos, can even be fined for leaving out an unwashed plate. A park ranger came to check our camp site and warn us about the dogs.
6/10 Got up at 6am for a two hour bushwalk to lake Wabby. Luk and I had the whole lake to ourselves and is was absolut beautiful. The lake was surrounded three sides by thick Eucalypt forest and the fourth side by a huge sand dune steeply sloping into the lake. We swam in the water but had to leave far to soon as we had to get back to the campsite and pack up before high tide. We drove to Lake Boomarijn which shines red in certain sunlight. Julia's driving along the bumpy roads shot our nerves to pieces as she narrowly missed driving off a bridge and came a bit too close to the trees on the side of the track.Got to Lake Mackenzie at midday and had three hours to enjoy it before catching the ferry back to Hervey Bay. The water of the lake was crystal clear and the sand so fine Hilary could clean her silver jewellary in it. We had great fun playing with a frisbee and Kerry organised relay races in the water. Julia spotted a red back spider by the car and Hilary discovered a tick sucking Luk's arm. Rob knew how to get it off, head and all.
7-8/10 Back in Hervey Bay where Luk went on a whale watching tour. The whales are supposed to be the most active at sunrise so the boat leaves at 5:30. Luk duly waited outside the hostel at 5am only to be told the trip was cancelled due to high winds. The next day the trip went ahead. A mother whale and baby came close to the boat and we could clearly see the spray from breathing. The hump on the back of the whale and the tail also came slightly above the water surface. It was good to see all this but still disappointing as we had expected to see them jumping completely out of the water as they usually do.
9-10/10 Spent a couple of days in a very nice but still cheap beach resort. We had a beautiful cabin surrounded by a pond and swimming pool. At night a possum climbed onto the roof of our cabin. A german girl tried to feed it but the possum leaned over too much and fell on her face scratching her, not a good idea to feed wild animals.
11/10 Back on the Oz Bus, we stopped at a lake where saw some wallabies grazing. They were about a meter high and had a white line across their face. We managed to get some photos before other people got to close and scared them away. We are now in Rockhampton, directly on the Tropic Of Capricorn.
12/10 Up early to catch the ferry to Great Keppel Island where we are staying a couple of nights in the youth hostel. It's supposed to be camping but we have a light, fan and double bed in our tent. We walked half an hour to a deserted beach where we could snorkel over coral reef. It has to be one of the nicest beaches we've seen - clear white sand, warm seawater and no waves.
13/10 We were invaded by 20 or so Rainbow Lorikeets, very colourful parrots, who tried to steal our breakfast. One even landed on top of Luk's head, Roylene the YHA manager shooed them away with a jet of water soaking half the people eating breakfast in the process. We went for a three and a half hour bushwalk around the island up to various lookout points and mountain tops. It was very hot but the views were stunning. Luk went windsurfing in the afternoon.
14-17/10 Spent three days on Namoi Hills Cattle Station near Dingo in the outback. The ranch is the size of Belgium and the earth is red. One paddock alone is the size of Paris and the cows are a breed from India. 70% of the meat produced goes to Burger King.
The main reason why we are staying here is so we can make didjeridoos under the instruction of an aboriginal called Ron. We walked through the bush to find a suitable tree to cut down. The tree has to be the right width and hollowed out by termites on the inside. We only found one suitable tree which Ron cut down. Back at the shed there was a pile of trunks already cut and stripped that we just had to sand down before we could start painting. It was very peaceful with Ron helping us to paint aboriginal designs including a sunset landscape, spiders, snake, liazrd, platypus, turtle and dots. We were very proud of the finished product and Luk went to throw his boomerang with another aboriginal artist. Kangaroos hopped by in the distance on the red earth. On the way back a kangaroo jumped out of the bushes over Luk who was sitting in the back of the pick up truck. It leap-frogged over him, just clearing him although he had to duck, and landed on the other side of the track and hopped away leaving us wondering if we believed our eyes but there were several witnesses.
Next day we made use of the free mountain bikes and enjoyed the earth roads although Hilary found it rather hot, one of the farm dogs joined us for the ride. It rained that night, a rather rare occurance here, water is very scarce and rain is collected from the roofs for drinking as it is so clean.
We were taken in a cattle truck on a tour of the farm by one of the cow girls. She demonstrated rifle shooting to us, and cracked a whip as loudly as a gunshot. All the boys thought she was very cool.
18-19/10 A couple of days relaxing in Airlie Beach although there is not actually a beach here. It is very hot and humid.
20-22/10 Whitsundays sailing trip. We'd heard this is one of the best things to do in Australia but perhaps we should have done a more expensive tour to really appreciate the islands. We are sailing on a large catameran with 25 other backpackers. We didn't actually sail much, the boat used the engine much of the time which is disappointing. The boat takes us to South Molle Island Resort, which is pretty but the low tide exposed the unappealing mudflats between the beach and the sea. Some backpackers got completely drunk that night playing drinking games. Next day they were totally sick on the boat from hangovers and the rough sea. High waves soaked the people on the front deck, who, like Luk, held on tight and enjoyed the white knuckle ride, while others fled with Hilary to the back of the boat.
We got a white sanded beach and relaxed for a few hours before snorkelling over an interesting reef next to a cliff. It was difficult to see as the water wasn't very clear and the reef quite far below. We had to wear stinger suits against the jelly fish which are prevelant in these waters.
Next day Hilary had the opportunity to do an intro scuba dive in a fascinating part of the reef. She was a bit nervous but very keen to see the coral and fish. She dived to 7 meters depth and although her ears hurt enjoyed it enough to want to do the five day dive course that Luk plans to go on.
Back in Airlie Beach and the Oz experience have cancelled tomorrow's bus so we have to stay here two more days although it is not guaranteed we'll get on that bus. We were very angry but they were not helpfull at all.
23-24/10 We both passed our dive medical and are looking forward to the diving course especially after talking to Andreas. He is an Italian deep sea diver who has travelled around the world for the past 7 years teaching scuba diving. He can dive up to 160 meters depth and can hold his breath for 5 minutes under water, we were very impressed. He has dived in the Blue Hole in Egypt where we've snorkelled. It is a very dangerous place to dive and he has been paid to collect dead divers from the sea arch 65m under the water. We'll only be diving up to 15 meters depth on our course.
We visited Vic Hislop's Shark Show. Vic has hunted man eating sharks for 30 years and has collected evidence on how dangerous they are to marine mammals and humans. Many people go missing every year in the Australian oceans but the disappearances are put down to drowning even though no bodies are found. He believes the government is playing down the risk of shark attacks so as not to damage tourism but Vic has caught killer sharks where the officials say there are none and has found human remains inside of them. He has much evidence to show that whales deliberately beach themselves to escape the tormenting sharks. He had many gory pictures and newspaper clippings and we are now a bit nervous about diving.
25-26/10 Oz bus to Cairns, on the way we stopped at a Crocodile Farm. We were given a scare when the owner walked on the bus holding a small crocodile. We were shown around the farm and we saw some huge crocs being hand fed by the brave keepers. The farm primarily raises crocs for meat and leather but has a few vicious ones captured from the wild where they've attacked humans. These are now used for breeding. The water enclosures looked as though they contained nothing until the keeper ruffled the surface with a stick and the croc would splash out snapping it's huge jaws and giving everyone a fright. Don't really want to meet those in the wild.
We also stopped at a beautiful waterfall under which we could cool off and swim. There were small terrapins (freshwater turtle) and catfish in the water.
27-28/10 First two days of the dive course spent in the class room and in the 4m deep swimming pool. We passed the swimming test and also the written exam testing us on what we've learnt in the past two days. It feels very strange to use all the equipment to breathe under water and one girl couldn't manage it at all so gave up. We learnt various skills and emergency procedures in case things go wrong under water. Tomorrow we go on a three day boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef to put into practise what we've learnt.
29-31/10 The boat took us out to a beautiful part of the reef where we snorkelled with a guide who picked up various animals, including a sea cucumber and anemones, for us to investigate.
In the afternoon we started our diving with the instructor who took us down to 12m depth where we had to show we could take off our mask and mouth piece and put them back on again. We also showed we could do an emergency shared air ascent. One 'clown' showed that he could do this for real when he ran out of air without even realising his air was going low. We had absolutely no problems. Next morning we had two more instructor guided dives, the first one down to 18m depth. We passed them and were awarded our Open Water Diving Certificates from Scuba Schools International. Now we can dive on our own to a maximum depth of 18m.
It was a bit scarey doing our first dive without an instructor, we did 5 dives on our own altogether, including a night dive. The night dive was very strange as only had torches to see and all the fishes were asleep. Other animals like crustaceans come out at night. During this dive we encountered a sleeping giant turtle possibly 1.5m in length, one diver woke him up by going too close and shining her torch into his eyes making him very angry and he chased us away. During our day dives we saw a bluespotted lagoon ray, white tip reef shark but the most dangerous was the trigger fish. This fish is only 40cm long but is very defensive when it breeding, it attacks any person coming too close to the nest. One snorkeller got bitten on her leg before she even saw the fish.
The coral reef was out of this world and it was the biggest thrill to dive through a tunnel called 'the cave of death', canyons and under natural arches. We also saw giant clams 1m long that shut when you touched the soft flesh between the shells, as well as countless beautiful fishes. One memorable fish is the Napoleon Maori Wrasse up to 1.5m long with thick lips and a heavy brow, it was always interested in us and enjoyed being tickled under the chin. The boat we stayed on was a luxery sailing boat, it was beautiful with a large lounge, dining room and bar. There was even a jacuzzi - absolute heaven to sink into the bubbly water after a tiring dive.
1/11 We are exhausted after 9 dives and are now resting in the hostel pool as it is very hot.
2-4/11Trip to Daintree and Cape Tribulation. We had a short boat trip of the Daintree River in the hope of spotting one of the hundreds of crocodiles that inhabit the river. But we didn't see any due to high tide, although we did see a yellow and green tree snake. We did a guided walk of the lush rainforest and sampled various 'bush tucker' including lemon flavoured ants. We are staying two nights in a jungle resort next to the beach and a short walk from Cape Tribulation. We are sounded by rainforest and all that goes with it including lots of spiders and metre long lace monitor lizards, the insects are especially noisy when we are trying to sleep at night. The surrounding mountains are beautiful and everything is a rich dark green. We visited a tropical fruit farm where we sampled ten tropical fruits, seven of which we had never heard of and will never see in the supermarkets as they are too fragile to transport. These included the 'abiu', about the size of an apple but its flesh has the texture and taste of creme caramel. Just as delicious was the carabbean 'ice cream bean'- a 50cm long bean with a white furry flesh with a taste similar to Turkish delight. Luk particularly enjoyed the 'jakfruit', a massive green fruit that can grow up to 40kg, with a very juicy yellow flesh, similar in taste to banana.
5-6/11 Back in the oppressing heat of Cairns, where it's impossible to do anything in the sun. One night Hilary woke up after midnight to hear splashing and laughter in the pool outside our cabin. She got up to use the toilet and walking past the pool, caught sight of rather a lot of flesh out of the corner of her eye. After the toilet she went to drink a glass of ice cold water from the kitchen fridge. On her way back she walked slap bang into a naked wet couple getting an absolute eyefull of the young man in his excitement. She quickly hid around one corner and they hid around the other. She soon realised this was no good, one had to go past the other to go where we wanted to go. So Hilary called (through lots of giggles) "If you go past me I won't look". They ran past into the shower and Hilary hurried back to the cabin where she awoke Luk who was jealous about missing the whole thing.
Fortunately we flew to Darwin the next morning so didn't see the naughty couple again or have to swim in that pool...
7/11 Flight to Darwin where it's even hotter. Luk had to rush to the doctor's with a nasty tropical ear infection. He got some eardrops, antibiotics and painkillers.
8/11 First day of our Kakadu tour, this is the trip Hilary won in Sydney. We are in a group of 21 people (11 nationalities) and Gerard our tour guide/bus driver/cook. We stopped at a creek where we saw massive Barramundi Cod (a local delicacy) and long neck turtles. We drove through a wetlands covered with waterlillies and pink flowers. Gerard pointed out many birds to us, some which are only found in this area. We saw magpie geese, crimson finches, ibis, storks, egrets and cranes. We arrived at the campsite around midday where there are permanent tents, a kitchen and proper toilets. Some of the older couples are paying extra for airconditioned rooms.
After lunch a local aboriginal man, Kevin, took us for a bush walk explaining various plants and bush tucker in his broken english. It was extremely hot and the only relief is the well airconditioned bus which then took us to a billabong (lake). We took a metal bottomed boat crocodile spotting. We weren't disappointed, we saw many fresh water crocs (not too dangerous) and some estuarine crocs or 'salties' (extremely dangerous). The boat got within metres of the crocodiles, about a thousand inhabit this particular billabong. Parts of the billabong were oxygen deprived and we saw a dying barramundi that we tried to pick up for dinner as we went past but it was too slippery so we left it for the crocodiles. We also came across a tree full of fruit bats and a dingo puppy - rather skinny - probably just been left to fend for him self. We had a bbq back at the campsite and were invaded by hundreds of small wallabies who let us stroke if we gave them bread.
That evening we watched a display of aboriginal dancing and didjeridoo playing. Kevin was very enthusiastic and got everyone to join in the mosquito and emu dances.
9/11 5 am start the next morning because we have a lot of driving to do. We drove to the next camp site where we switched to a 4WD vehicle so could access parts of Kakadu National Park where buses can't go. We drove through rivers and along bumpy tracks and walked about a kilometre in the intense heat to get to Jim Jim Falls. But there was no water! The waterfalls have already fallen this year, and will not fall again for another couple of months, as we are at the end of the dry season. It was an incredibly pretty spot. After picnic lunch where we were attacked by thousands of flies, we drove to the Twin Falls (still falling as the water comes from an underground spring). These waterfalls are only accessible by a creek (river), which meant a four hundred metre swim. The cool water was a delicious change to the heat. The huge cliffs either side of the creek were spectacular. Luk was still suffering with his ear and very concerned about getting water in it, so wore a life jacket. Unfortunatly everyone then thought he couldn't swim. We reached the falls, and spent a couple of hours enjoying the pool and the falling water and the sandy beach, all incredibly beautiful. On the way back, Hilary saw a rare black cockatoo, with a red tail. A breeding pair can cost 70 000 Oz dollars.
It was very difficult to sleep that night due to the heat. At about 4 am there was a huge thunder and lightening show and tons of rain fell. It was fractionally cooler after this.
10/11 Spent a very hot morning walking around aboriginal art painted on the outcrops of rock throughout the park. Gerard explained the meanings of some of the paintings, but aboriginal culture is very secretive and no one outside their society really understands it. Some of the paintings were 5000 years old; others only 20 years old. They were mostly pictures of fishes, wallabies and even a thylacine - a marsupial dog that has been extinct on the mainland for 4000 years, indicting the age of that particular painting. The colours were red and yellow ochre. Other paintings were of people and spirits, telling stories. After a battle with the flies for our lunch, we drove through a storm back to Darwin.
11-15/11 Back in Darwin and we have a few days to spare before flying to Singapore. We visited a couple of Aboriginal art galleries and met the painters themselves, who explained their work to us. All aborigines in Darwin have bare feet and most don't look as though they live anywhere. One artist we met had her whole family with her while she painted all day in the gallery. There is one area in the Northern Territory which they own and govern and have their own cultures and languages. All other Australians require a permit to enter this area of Arhnem Land, and that permit is hard to get.
One morning we walked to the NT Museum and admired pickled specimens of Oz's most fearsome creatures, including the deadly box jellyfish, the reason why we can't swim in the sea at this time of year. There was an excellent display about Cyclone Tracey that destroyed 90% of Darwin and killed more than 60 people in 1974, including a tape recording of the noise created by the storm, played in a blackened room to recapture the fear that anyone would feel experiencing that cyclone.
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